Painting and other art to combat poor mental health or mood has become a real soundbite, but for me it’s been abundantly helpful, when I started painting in March I had no idea I’d enjoy it and stick to it – now I can’t stop. I love the freedom of painting whatever I want.
I’ve had some acrylic paints in storage for literally 20 years. On March the 2nd or thereabouts I had some new free time, my book was being assessed by a professional which would take three weeks (for a full manuscript assessment), so I found my paints and a large piece of paper and sat down in my garden to see what came out. By the end of the day I’d painted my house with my nieces imagined mowing the lawn together as the central point of focus, and I titled it ‘The Value Of Children’.
It was a reasonable effort, I took my time, remembering a few tips I’d picked up from watching art programmes (see below…), and it was colourful. I found some humour in it and some deeper meaning, that one day the children will be taking over adult responsibilities.
So how to actually enjoy it
Not being put off by the endeavour of accuracy really helped and made it fun. I thought of David Hockney whose paintings are not usually accurate and he gets along fine…
The next day I bought some canvasses from Wilkinsons and some oil paints, feeling slightly guilty because it wasn’t essential shopping and this was in lockdown. But the art equipment was thin at Wilko’s, I wasn’t the only one who’d started painting!
I began another. As I got going it really came together. Do the background first – then fill in the details, and remember that things in the distance require less time and clarity. The big white tree I’d painted came out really beautiful, reflected in the pond too, and I felt that maybe there was some talent there. I began adding some things to provoke thought from a few of my enthusiastic ideas – the bird in the tree was being eye’d up by a crocodile, the crocodile was being eye’d up by a hunter with a sniper rifle on the horizon, there were storm clouds above the hunter with a small lightning bolt headed his way, which I thought might get people thinking on the rights and wrongs of all this (stay with me here for a sec).
The hunter was in the wrong (as most of us would say), but then the crocodile was lining up a kill too, and even the bird was taking a shit while feeding on berries from the tree. And God was seeing it all and taking aim through the lightning bolt…
And why not? It made sense to me, I was happy with it and I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, just painting. It continued and I did another, then another. I’m on my nineteenth now, and I have a gallery on this website, click menu in top right.
In April I noticed a welcome surprise. For 15 years I have been on medications for my psychosis and anxiety (might I add that my Clozapine worked actual wonders for me, so much that I think of it with fondness), these days I’m very well and it might be partly because I take my meds every day. But I’ve always thought that my meds make my brain work more slowly, they make me less sharp in thought and wit, and my memory forgets the little things too easily. I can remember stuff, especially if I use some mnemonics, but I have to make more effort than I should. But after I began painting I would be remembering exactly what was in the fridge for dinner and in what order, even what the best before dates were on each item. With no effort. It was nice.
It occurred to me that the only change I’d made was this new hobby, then that maybe the painting was waking up some creative parts in my brain, and that could be helping my memory. What I mean is that it’s easier to remember a colourful scene than a black and white one. It was satisfying that after so many years of defending myself to work colleagues and family when I forgot things automatically, something that they didn’t understand (they could remember things so why can’t Pete?) and were a bit short with me on, that my memory was ticking along nicely again.
I have been enjoying the Google Arts and Culture app too. I’m into art now, my favourite painter is Manet, as well as a few others. It’s soothing to think of Hockney while I paint, remembering that it doesn’t have to be accurate, but after 18 paintings even the accuracy is coming along!
I work part time at The Basingstoke Community Furniture Project, I do woodworking in their workshop and they sell my coffee tables in the shop. My boss saw my paintings and asked if I could paint some murals on the walls. I am hugely enjoying it, I’m in the process of a series of paintings of Basingstoke landmarks and spots of beauty.
I’ve heard people talking about lockdown as being this useless time where they are bored and the time is dragging, they have nothing to do and what’s the bloody point of it all…but I can honestly say I have never been so productive, and I’m very happy, I’m lucky that I have this newfound hobby and the means to do it.
So back to the original thrust of this blog post about art being this thing that is supposed to help us be happier and is a good therapy for positive mental health, and whether this is as true as some people think, for me the answer is yes, yes, and yes again. It is helping me in ways I didn’t even think were possible.
I’d love to hear comments about art…